Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sochi from My Rearview Mirror: Part Three

We're Having an Adventure

There was a lot of “talk” by media prior to the start of Olympics about lodging, weather, food, doorknobs, water, toilets…all kinds of things. Frankly, it got to be a bit much. We honestly stopped watching and listening. We were on our way to Sochi no matter what. We were as prepared as we could be and we were going in with eyes open and a lot of excitement about exploring a new place, as well as seeing how everything was going to work.

Our flight from Frankfurt to Sochi/Adler on Orenair was full; it was also about 90 f on the plane, a theme that would play out again and again during our eight days. The seats were small but the flight crew was lovely. Our seatmate ended up being a very nice man from Switzerland who had been to the area many times in the past year because he was in charge of constructing P&G Family Home, USA House and Swiss House for the architect and designer. We learned about the area and the concepts for the varying buildings. Our conversation was fascinating and it made our four hour flight go quickly. (As a side note, we were fortunate to run into him again inside USA House a few days later where he got to show us his handiwork up close.)

We arrived at the Adler Airport about 9:30PM. We had athletes, coaches, fans, officials – all manner of people starting their Road to Sochi adventure. There was a buzz of excitement in a multitude of languages as we went through Customs and retrieved our luggage. Next, we had to find transportation to our hotel in Sochi, about a 40 minute drive away.

We had been told that cab fares needed to be negotiated and agreed to in advance. It took a few minutes of wide-eyed wandering to find a volunteer who spoke English and could help us identify a credentialed driver. There was a lot of conversation in Russian; lots of gesturing and pointing and we sensed a bit of confusion but finally our bags were loaded in and we were on our way – sort of.

The driver left and headed out of the airport. We circled on the brand new highway and headed off to the right. My immediate instinct was we should be going left. We passed the Olympic rings, the signs large signs that represented the continents of the world. There was a sign for Sochi Center, too. It was on the left. We went right. About 10 minutes later, we found ourselves passing the rings and signs again. I said something to Allen who immediately pointed to the sign to Sochi so our driver would see him. We took a sudden veer to the left. Apparently, the confusion I sensed in the earlier conversation was correct. Our driver was lost. This was a time that not having a meter in the cab worked to our advantage. What should have been a 40 minute ride was now a 70 minute adventure that took us down the highway and into Sochi and to our hotel with the unpronounceable name that locals just called the Zhem.

Walking into the lobby, we were greeted by our U.S. Figure Skating contact. She had been texting with us along the way and knew our arrival time. I swear the woman never slept. We were guided through the check in process and up we went to our room located on the 10th floor.

Tired and very hungry, we opened the door to our assigned abode. On entering, we found two twin beds and the sound of dripping water in the bathroom, something we knew we could get fixed. The bed? Not so much. Our contact had gone back to her room, so we quickly texted her before she went to sleep to ask about the accommodation arrangement. We were told that two people meant two beds. Really? We’re in the hotel business, so off we went to the front desk to see if there was any possibility of getting in a room with one bed. Voila. Done – and just down the hallway a few rooms. 

We were settled in and now it was time to get something to eat. It was now 1AM. We found that, like the heat, this would be another recurring theme during our stay in Sochi – late night dining.

Down to the bar we went. It looked like something out of the 1980s in a fun, retro kind of way. There were officials from the Netherlands in one corner, some people from Team USA snowboarding and some of our own US Figure Skating officials who had just arrived from a practice and greeted us with hugs and conversation as we waited for the server to bring us a menu.

Perusing the offerings, we saw many familiar items, but some things that we had never encountered – including a red wine from Cuba. After some sign language with the waiter, and clarification that we had to pay in rubles or with a credit card and we could not charge to our room, we ordered a glass each, vegetables and a cheese plate then sat back to watch the developing chaos of a Sochi hotel bar at now 2AM. It was quite a scene.

Tired and somewhat sated, we finally wandered off to bed. It was now nearly 3AM. In a few hours we would begin our first of many treks uphill nearly a mile to catch a bus to the Olympic Park. 

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